What this article fails to mention: there was recently a case discovered where one of the clients of these troll farms was... Ministry of Justice. They used to slander judges who were not in the political line of thought of the previous / current leading party.
The knowledge of this was as high up as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the man who appears to be driving the whole country from the back seat.
If a party did that in a country where voters respond appropriately to this kind of thing, that political party would be wiped out for a generation.
If a party manages to dupe people into thinking their populist cause is important enough to see past the use of troll factories for message control, then that I think says a lot about the health of a democracy. I can imagine this happening in Poland, Hungary or perhaps even Italy, but not in that many places in the EU apart from those.
In case of Poland the party increased social spending several times, paying people with 2 kids half the median salary every month and lowering retirement age.
They could go on TV saying "we are corrupt and we are stealing from you" and they would still win these elections just because they paid for the votes. That's how populism works.
Frankly I'm amazed they managed to lose the Senate and only won the Sejm (lower house - more important in Poland).
> I can imagine this happening in Poland, Hungary or perhaps even Italy, but not in that many places in the EU apart from those.
May I remind you Trump is the president of USA (and his lawyer is arguing he could murder someone on the street and would still be free to go) and UK voted for Brexit? Social networks and troll farms played a big role in both events.
This is how democracy works now... It's like in 20s-30s last century - radio was invented and democracy wasn't ready for it - and when crisis came the result was totalitarianisms.
Now democracy wasn't ready for internet and after crisis came the result is resurgence of populism.
I initially wrote a comment about how the idea of troll farms and misinformation campaigns is very old. Mark Antony and Octavian engaged in such campaigns against one another after Caesar's death. I was essentially thinking that we've dealt with them, just at a smaller scale. Somehow I missed the irony that Octavian literally ended the Roman Republic. I suppose the downfall started with Caesar though.
I really do wonder what can be done about the misinformation problem. It doesn't seem like educating the populace is a very effective solution, because even educated people fall for it.
> Sulla's military coup—ironically enabled by Marius' military reforms that bound the army's loyalty with the general rather than to the Republic—permanently destabilized the Roman power structure. Later leaders like Julius Caesar would follow his precedent in attaining political power through force.
A far cry from the traditional virtue embodied by Cincinnatus :
> He came from his plow to assume complete control over the state but, upon achieving a swift victory, relinquished his power and its perquisites and returned to his farm. His success and immediate resignation of his near-absolute authority with the end of this crisis (traditionally dated to 458 BC) has often been cited as an example of outstanding leadership, service to the greater good, civic virtue, humility, and modesty.
I visited an extraordinarily polluted steelworks city a few years ago. Even on a clear day, the air was orange, and as you entered the city you noticed the colour wash out of everything slightly, and the horizon over the estuary blurred out to a drab orange smear.
I mention this, as when I mentioned it to the locals, none of them understood what I was talking about.
You see, when your entire reality glows orange, that becomes normal to you. You cease to notice that everything is orange. You even vehemently disagree with anyone who’s just arrived and asks “why is everything around here orange?”.
This is how propaganda works. Degree by degree everything turns orange, and unless you get out of it once in a while, you never notice.
That is one reason why I'd like the media to recognize the part they themselves play in all this. Just by repeating the words of the demagogues for critical reasons they still give them another platform.
'Today Trump repeated a debunked hoax as though it were true'
is one thing, to say
'Today Trump said "The FBI didn’t take Hillary Clinton's email server. It was taken by somebody that, I guess, it’s CrowdStrike — that’s what I’ve heard.", which has been debunked long ago'.
Is another. The second may be more sexy and may draw more eyeballs and therefore ad impressions but it still gives Trump a platform for his BS and plenty of people will believe the president over some reporter saying that this was already debunked as an afterthought.
We all are. Our entire human world comprises overlapping subjective realities built by group consensus. What is true and rational to me is anathema to another, and the inverse applies. From cradle to grave our realities are sculpted by our experiences and those surrounding us. Recognising this is the first step to understanding an awful lot of why people think and do what they do.
> Recognising the importance of radio in disseminating the Nazi message, Goebbels approved a scheme whereby millions of cheap radio sets (the Volksempfänger) were subsidised by the government. In the "Radio as the Eighth Great Power" speech, Goebbels proclaimed:
> It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio....It is no exaggeration to say that the German revolution, at least in the form it took, would have been impossible without the airplane and the radio. ...[Radio] reached the entire nation, regardless of class, standing, or religion. That was primarily the result of the tight centralization, the strong reporting, and the up-to-date nature of the German radio....Above all it is necessary to clearly centralize all radio activities, to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones,...to provide a clear worldview,
> By the start of the Second World War, over 70% of German households had one of these radios, which were deliberately limited in range in order to prevent loyal citizens from considering other viewpoints in foreign broadcasts. Radio broadcasts were also played over loudspeakers in public places and workplaces.
> During the democratic period, when the Weimar government introduced progovernment political news, the growth of Nazi popularity slowed down in areas with access to radio. This effect was reversed during the campaign for the last competitive election as a result of the pro-Nazi radio broadcast following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor. During the consolidation of dictatorship, radio propaganda helped the Nazis enroll new party members. After the Nazis established their rule, radio propaganda incited anti-Semitic acts and denunciations of Jews to authorities by ordinary citizens. The effect of anti-Semitic propaganda varied depending on the listeners’ predispositions toward the message. Nazi radio was most effective in places where anti-Semitism was historically high and had a negative effect in places with historically low anti-Semitism
Remember that before radio the best you could get was newspapers and leaflets, and both were mostly ignoring the lower strata of society. In religious regions you could also make a deal with the church I guess, it was the only information network that reached masses regularly.
People in countryside don't get leaflets. Poor people don't spend on newspapers. Radio was "free newspaper everyday", and Nazis gave the radios for free.
Also when you buy a newspaper you presumably already agree with its message at least a little, so it's hard to make people change their minds with newspapers. When you buy a radio you get all the stations, so you can be persuaded by them to change your mind over time.
Newspapers were dynamite in their time. Before moveable type, printing anything was expensive and time consuming. It was typically done only by governments and the very wealthy. They controlled the message.
Then, along comes the ability to move type, and re-use your castings. Luther prises the faultlines in religion wide open with handbills. The English and the French end up having revolutions, promulgated by samizdat handbills disseminated throughout society. The abolitionist movement promote their cause through the same, and American dissenters publish their ideas to a malleable audience with cheap ease, resulting in another revolution.
Arguably, the last gasp of newspapers as the primary medium of movement was the First World War - and then radio took the helm, then television, and now, the internet.
It’s not so much that we’re unready for these media so much as we never will be. We receive subjective realities willingly - it’s how we form social bonds. All that changes is the accessibility of broadcast through the medium, and radio and tv were machines for centralised messaging, whereas the printing press and internet have allowed dissenting voices to once more gain a foothold in the minds of many.
If we follow pattern, we are in for a rough ride, but perhaps a better state of affairs at the end of it.
People attesting this are mostly totalitarians themselves. People tend to find out about the patronism and pick their own favorite totalitarian in a most reactionary manner. I doubt there is any further and deeper insight.
No way. Sadly, the sole existence of troll farms is enough to create and reinforce political paranoia. Your message (parent) here, for example, is exactly the kind of stuff I've come to associate with Russian and similar trolling (sowing distrust in institutions etc.)...
But you have to be extremely naive to not believe it. Work somewhere near marketing and you realize everything is shilled upon you. The politicians have used these tricks hundreds of years ago, things are just different with a new platform.
Have you thought about the idea that you yourself are a victim of a marketing department if you believe every criticism is related to Russian campaigns?
Paid for troll farms are waste of money when the general public already agrees with the party. Thus, many parties have no reason to do this when members of the general public are willing to do it for free.
I would very much doubt that. Though I'm sure the extremists wouldn't care how they won an election the main incumbents would be afraid that if it leaked they would be clobbered at the ballot box. If you don't give a damn about your reputation you tend to have more options than if you do.
Yes, it would work in a country that has viable opposition. In Poland we have a choice between:
party 1-Used to be in power for 8 years, has lots of huge scandals to its name including closing their eyes to billions of VAT fraud. Unjustified repossessions of homes based on made up documents for tens of thousands of people. Right on stealing of people's retirement funds they said they wouldnt touch. Raising of retirement age when they campaigned on keeping it same and changing the retirement system instead. Raising taxes immediately after gaining power despite campaigning on a platform of lowering them to so called 3x15%. This party instantly started talking about a "crisis of democracy" the moment they lost the election. Before they went they managed to attempt to unlawfully replace 3 of the high Court judges. This proved to be a great trap for newcomers which then proceeded in exact same manner with regard to high court.
Party 2 - Ex communists plus "new left". Ex communists were always known as homophobes, "old boys club", but they are on the left so new left that pushes values like tolerance etc aligned themselves with those old bastards which makes them loose all credibility in my eyes.
- Party 3- a super nationalist party started by a guy who used to be a free market libertarian most of his life and gained fame by using a live elephant, and a South American style "el presidente" suit as main items during his campaign. In other news the guy is a known shovinist and was stabbed in the gut by his own daughter. Allegedly 20% of young people support that clown.
Party 5 - A small party that tries to pass itself as farmers party but in reality exists to further interests of few large landowners.
Now in addition to the above we have the currently ruling party that is correctly characterised as being way too religious even going as far as equating Catholicism with being Polish in some of their talks, being stupid in their attempts to reform the openly corrupt justice system causing correct accusations of breaking the law. At the same time they proven not to be corruptible by sorting out the tax system to the effect of increasing the budget almost by half (it turns out we had massive Vat fraud previous guys knew and did absolutely minimum about and half of small businesses were cheating at taxes). The currently ruling party implemented a system where if you "forget" about a vat invoice it'll text you about it making people much more honest about paying. Additionally, the ruling party is the only political force ever in Poland that actually implemented all of their campaign promises. Many people like myself don't like the religiousness, but value that those the only people that went into politics to actually implement their campaign promises. This is completely unheard of in Poland. As a result of the lack of open thievery the previous guys were engaging in and their social programs which increase the amount of money in hands of previously poor people the economy is much better. The unemployment is non existent in big cities etc.
The bottom line is, who would you vote for: A dishonest person)(a known thief and conman) who tells you what you want to hear, or honest people you disagree with on some principles? That's why the ruling party won its second election. Not because it is great, but because they are seen as the only force that is non-corrupt(or at least less corrupt) and fulfilling its promises.
The opposition are either dishonest, incompetent or a joke depending on who you look at. I really wish there is time we have honest opposition in Poland. Maybe the new left once they drop the ex-communists will become that for the next election. We'll see.
Of course nobody cares because social money flow :)
As for the "increase of budget" - mostly it comes from changes in the system already introduced by the previous government but with vacation legis (like electronic reporting for microcompanies - JPK). And of course PIS has the luck to rule during a worldwide economic boom.
I should've written "mostly" not corruptible. Still the level of corruption discovered pales in comparison with the previous guys.
As for the previous guys bringing up microreporting.... please, that is such a worn out excuse. They were in power for 8 years and they actually managed to start serious work on that particular solution half a year before they left office, becuase they knew they absolutely have to. How is that not doing absolute minimum they can get away with? Have you seen the answer the back then minister of finance gave when he was asked a question what did he do when he was informed there are likely billions of VAT refunds beign scammed out of the system? His answer was "I don't remember".
Also tell Germans, China and many other countries about that worldwide economic boom we've been experiencing for last 4 years :-)
I'm no fan of PiS. In fact I voted for their rivals 12 years ago because I did believe their promises of 3x15%, low taxes etc. I still remember many scandals that are forgotten today. For example billions spent on motorways built by the state and then given to companies owned by "friends" for 50 year lease so they could make profits by charging drivers whatever they want for using infrastructure funded by people's own taxes. But my biggest dissapointment with them was not even thievery as it can perhaps be explained that not everyone was a theif etc, but the fact they didn't implement a single one of their promises. They did nothing about rotten to the core bureaucracies of the tax offices, national insurance (ZUS) and tried to privatise the health service through the back door. It is no simple task to resolve this. Even though PiS has very little sucess in those areas, at least they are talking about this and are seen as trying with their "Constitution for Business" that is the only law (other than the actual constitution) that states tax man is supposed to use presumption of innocence not presumtion of guilt as it is done usually and actually treat people fairly in their dealings with the tax offices.
It is true that many people vote for PiS because of new social programs. However, there are many people that vote for them because there is no other viable choice. Sometimes the least bad is the only option.
Anyway, as George Bush famously said: "Full me once, shame on you, full me tw-you can't get fooled again!" :-)
Show me even 1 corruption scandal from 8 years of the previous government the level of the 3 I posted above. The most I could find is Nowak forgot to include a watch in his property statement (oświadczenie majątkowe). He got fired.
Meanwhile Szyszko "forgot" to include land and a house in Mazury lake resort worth hundreds of thousands of PLN and nothing :)
> They were in power for 8 years and they actually managed to start serious work on that particular solution half a year before they left office, becuase they knew they absolutely have to.
That's one interpretation. Another is - when you don't have single majority and have to coordinate with your coallition partners stuff takes more time. When you actually ask people and do all the proper processes - legislation takes time.
On the other hand you can do it like PIS does - change law in 1 night without any review, and then it turns out it contains logical errors, duplicated articles, and have to be fixed 9 times (like the law about KRS was :) ).
I much prefer slow and steady to fast and chaotic. Law is in may respects like code, and PIS is doing spaghetti code.
I agree with the argument that two examples are not exactly a pattern, but I am not basing my opinion on just those.
It may be that I have become too cynical lately, but if some court cases taught us recently, it is that popular fora of all kinds are a battleground of sorts and everyone there is either an FBI agent, a shill or a dog.
For the record, the moment you used word populist makes me question whether you have an axe to grind yourself ( ie. UE establishment is not that happy about Poland and Hungary breaking ranks), but I digress..
This how bad it is. HN is pretty decent moderation-wise and I still keep my guard up.
Everyone who has enough resources to pay for this kind of PR services - that would be correct. I used to work for an ad company which provided "artificial opinions" to a bunch of clients, including a charity for disabled people for example.
Astroturfing is incredibly common, it's part of many public relations firms standard services. In person actors are obviously more expensive than their online equivalent but it's all just viewed as a tool for a campaign.
You will see "we need nuclear power because it's the greenest/most renewable/etc... energy" type posts dispersed all through social media almost anywhere there's a discussion about climate change, renewable energy, etc...
Even if the original topic was only tangentially related it will get changed. A post with puppy photos can turn into a climate change discussion because "nuclear power is so green".
Climate change is an issue that people talk about a lot, and nuclear power is a carbon-neutral form of energy, so it might just be a relevant and popular argument around the circles you frequent.
If I had to guess at any motivation other than a lot of people actually liking nuclear power, it would probably be that nuclear power is one of the few controversies where a reasonably intelligent person can easily grasp a series of basic arguments and then virtue-signal about being more scientifically literate than the unwashed masses. It's basically the same social dynamic that used to motivate the type of people who argued with creationists and climate change deniers.
It's also the Generically Dumbest Conspiracy Theory On The Internet to say "everybody who disagrees with me is a paid shill". People on the internet tend to hold and express opinions because it's an emotionally compelling thing to do, not because they're being paid off by Westinghouse or George Soros or whoever. It's literally an accusation you're making without evidence--I could just as easily suggest that maybe YOU'RE a shill for the photovoltaic industry? ;)
If a discussion is about halloween costumes and then another person asks a pointed question about [material/structure/use/etc...] and then devolves into nearly perfect corporate speak supporting [sponsored industry]. No big deal.
But if this happens frequently on a wide range of topics, on a regular basis it gets to a point where a rational person has to question the validity of the information source.
Many people, myself included, see Nuclear as inseparable from climate change and green energy. We could dramatically cut our greenhouse emissions now, with technology we've had since the 1960s.
It's really hard not to point out when people start talking about better solar and battery storage that we could be solving this problem right now with tech we already have. Instead our solution to climate change keeps being pushed out into the nebulous future because people refuse to look at the obvious solution.
Well, then wake up. We didn't solve it with nuclear tech, and we won't. It is too expensive because it is so complicated and not very popular to boot. It won't happen. And it prevents you (here I'm not talking about you personally) from recognizing the incredible strides PV and wind turbines have made in the past decades.
The IV generation plants people keep talking about didn't happen in time. With the current pace, we're at least ten years from commercial roll out, and at that point there's no market left for something that needs to run 24/7 to be competitive. Wind turbines and solar are falling in price YoY.
I'm afraid even your "We could dramatically cut ... now" is hyperbole. Nuclear power plants take many years to plan and build.
> it is so complicated and not very popular to boot.
“People are stupid” is not a valid reason for not choosing a technology. It’s just something that needs to be overcome. Do you realize how complex and out of grasp a basic SCADA controller is to normal people? A modern turbofan? Yet people entrust their lives to these things every day wi the no issue.
> incredible strides PV and wind turbines have made in the past decades.
PV and wind absolutely do not matter. They cannot provide stable base load. Solar enthusiasts bury their heads in the sand when it comes to base load and hand wave about batteries, pumped storage, etc when in reality they are just signing civilization up for more gas turbine plants and coal while virtue signaling that they care about the environment.
If nuclear isn't happening in time, neither are renewables. Countries like Germany that are transitioning away from nuclear and towards renewables have actually increased their fossil fuel consumption in recent years because renewables just aren't keeping up.
Not to mention that many of the delays and drawbacks of nuclear power are precisely due to the antinuclear movement itself, which imposes barriers and regulations instead of the subsidies that renewables have received.
Part of the reason why Germany is burning more fossil fuels is that the coal lobby paid for that. The coal industry got a shitload of permits to build coal plants a while ago, in some cases coal plants that are being shut down are being turn down and replaced with a new coal plant that the operator got a permit for.
Meanwhile the renewables are being choked by increasing regulatory burdens (which the coal lobby lobbied for) and fake news (pushed by the coal lobby) to prevent even those who pass the burden from building anything. In Bavaria the area where wind turbines can still be built is less than a percent of the total area of the state, the coal lobby meanwhile is building a new coal plant (they got a permit to build one and politics is unwilling to revoke it).
Renewables could have easily replaced a large part of nuclear if not for the coal lobby.
I still wasn't a bad idea to kill nuclear in Germany. It is pretty expensive, admittably partly due to regulation, but also because of unsolved problems. Additionally we would have to ask Plutonium-Putin (No, we do not use plutonium-reactors)for all his good stuff and people would have cried again. There are still active NPP in Germany, but overall you cannot really say the decision was bad.
Yes, there are new coal powered plants being build, but mostly to replace inefficient older ones. There might be an argument that a new NPP would have been a better solution, but it wouldn't have worked out economically. Maybe with taxes on carbon dioxides if that would have been implemented.
I think subsidies for renewables are a far better investment compared to NPP.
In the over-a-decade I've spent witnessing internet conversations on various forums, I have constantly seen only marginally-relevant discussions get consistently derailed onto such topics as: Nazis, gun regulation, copyright law, atheism, feminism, Ron Paul, and Elon Musk. It doesn't take long to observe that obsessives and fanboys exist and are in fact extremely common, so why would you assume without evidence that people are paid shills instead of fanboys?
I don't like taking offence, but I do find it quite offensive you've reduced mine and many others' opinions on nuclear energy to trolling. Most discussions online actually tend to have similar themes, topics and tropes.
Even here on HN, there's occasionally jokes like "cool, how long before they shut it down" on Google's products as an example. There's nothing wrong with this comment but it has the patterns you also ascribed to trolls.
Let's run with your idea and let's say that there are clandestine efforts to promote the idea of nuclear power generation in the public -- cui bono?
Who benefits? Are there any major initiatives in the nuclear industry? Are any new plants starting to be built?
All I've seen is a bunch of plants that have horrible cost overruns and no fixed time line for being finished.
That doesn't sound like something that you'd want to raise public awareness about if you were in the nuclear industry.
So who does this kind of campaign benefit if not the nuclear industry? It doesn't seem to benefit the oil and gas industry who are without a doubt the masters and originators of propaganda in this market. It doesn't benefit solar and wind generators -- so who?
I don't know, but maybe discussing it will bring some light to this subject? Maybe a system/method to determine who is a professional troll?
Pro-Troll Filter: (first draft)
1. Is the commenter able to rationally discuss the downsides of their position?
NO? Possibly a pro-troll or an irrational comment.
2. Is the commenter willing to admit past errors in implementing of their ideal solution, and also consider the same errors could occur again? (ie, no true Scotsman logical fallacy)
NO? Possibly a pro-troll or an irrational comment.
3. Is the commenter willing to look at and/or discuss real data, even if it contradicts their position?
NO? Possibly a pro-troll or an irrational comment.
4. Does the commenter devolve into ad hominem attacks?
YES? Possibly a pro-troll or an irrational comment.
People have bad days and can act irrationally at any time. But I have found that when someone is unable/unwilling to admit error tries to support an idea based on limited information will devolve into irrational comments when challenged with counter arguments/questions. Not sure how this will help with pro-troll filtering, but it's more data to consider.
Your filter sucks. Pro trolls don’t become irrational. They just defuse or disappear.
Only fanboys dig in and defend a subject with senseless arguments once they become emotional.
If you’re trying to come up with a filter, decide: do you want to filter out trolls or just people that are fans of topics that hurt your feelings? Right now it just looks like a filter for any conversation with a human you disagree with.
Couldn't it be fossil fuel groups who benefit. They know there are groups who fight for green energy who are very strongly against nuclear and that by pushing for nuclear, it creates internal conflict which reduces the pressure being put on existing fossil fuels. It is also an easier target to focus on with propaganda. Nuclear has a certain level of fear in our social psyche that doesn't exist with other green energy which makes for easier propaganda.
But there is no upside for them doing that. Solar and wind don’t even compete with fossil fuels.
The best thing for fossil fuels in the current climate is to keep everyone against nuclear. A solar/wind future without the fantasy breakthrough in cheap storage is actually just a solar/wind + fossils base-load future. Anti-nuclear == pro-fossils in any solution that doesn’t involve significant blackouts.
I mean, some people like myself view nuclear power as the only currently known feasible way of satisfying all our power needs into the future, not just to produce clean electrical energy, but to also fuel carbon sequestration efforts and clean chemical and material synthesis. So anytime climate change, green technology, or anything related to such topics come up it is only natural for nuclear power to eventually pop up also.
My point was that it wasn't just governments using paid trolls.
It's unfortunate that I mentioned "nuclear" without adding other industries to buffer that one. No one takes issue with me listing the "medical industry" as paying for trolls, not sure why so many care about nuclear over the medical industry here...
Not it's not, imagine a world where we have steady, dependable power with nuclear power sources and supplemental power with solar and wind where it makes sense. I don't know a single nuclear power fan who doesn't also support other relatively clean power sources as well. All I ever hears is "but radiation!" and not much more to argue against it. We have perfectly sufficient ideas on containing the byproducts.
Frankly, pro-solar people started doing that first, but yes pro-nuclear internet warriors are catching up. I find it useful, how ever strange that might sound - it actually promotes the dialog. Unfortunately in todays highly populist politics the loudest group usually gets to shape the public policies, so fighting noise with noise equalizes the outcome, and thus increases chances that someone in the end will actually consult some experts too.
Yeah I don't get that. Often online SJW and others accuse people of being a troll if they aren't being agreed with. That's why the universal principal of Free Speech should be observed if you want to keep it. I continue to support nuclear energy whenever I can. We need far more research into Fusion and new generations of fission reactors that -can't- go critical and the other side continues to use unfounded nimby-ism to prevent new reactors from being built.
It's possible that there're trolling attempts too, but there's a lot of real (and smart) people who're truly passionate about nuclear power as the best option - to the point that it looks like trolling. Solar vs nuclear is kinda new tabs vs spaces type of thing, very high emotional stakes on the both sides.
anyone with a vested interest on any side of an argument is a candidate for these types of services. we can all go pick the groups we don't like, paint with that broad brush, but in the end we need to realize that all sides do this and we need to be aware.
with the internet comes a lot of freedom and this is part of the price of having it because you can bet there is a politician waiting in the wings who will ask you to let them muzzle someone to protect you all the while another politician may be selling your right to speak.
Based on my personal experience, being one of the few pro-nuclear voices in the ostensibly anti-nuclear social media [filter bubble], I'm half-inclined to accuse you of being an anti-nuclear shill. But I think you're not, we just live in different filter bubbles.
As for nuclear NIMBYs, sure, individually they don't have the money (I'm a nuclear YIMBY, and I don't have it either). But there's plenty of organizations with money and influence, campaigning against nuclear - e.g. fossil fuel industry, Greenpeace. So I'm going to back the GP - everyone does that.
Though one thing we learned from the last election is that troll farms can push extreme views on both sides of an issue just to encourage division.
If you believe all pro-nuclear-energy people are extremist environmental nuts, or all anti-nuclear-energy are anti-science luddites, then you've got a lot of people who are going to be easy to manipulate, since they won't ever entertain any argument from the other side.
Sure, but this is also an industry, they are a "belief" industry, but it's not poor people, and it's not individuals. It's either really rich people or some kind of corporate body. (or governments obviously) Am I missing a group?
It was definitely a case of leaking sensitive info to an on-line "troll", who then published it via Twitter and got this re-tweeted by shady followers, but in this particular case it was not a farm (as in trolling as a service), it was an individual with personal connections to some of the Ministry of Justice officials.
'It would be great if you posted positive comments about the government’s subsidy for TVP and the television licence fee,' is not a troll farm, its a PR firm.
'company’s rightwing accounts would then oppose the leftwing accounts, generating conflict and traffic' reads like something straight from Douglas Adams works.
Article also fails to mention a real political troll farm discovered some time earlier https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pl&u=http://... ran by current parliament member (representing failed party, PO, the one whose members recently voted pro censorship in EU) inside a Town Hall and utilized city employees on the clock.
Google has largely solved the spam problem for end users. What I can't figure out is why platforms like Facebook and Twitter couldn't mark these sort of posts as, essentially, spam, by the same sort of rules and heuristics as email spam. Why can't they look at the metadata of verified troll-farm-generated clickbait/junk/spam/fake news, and make their own filters, and demote that content?
Simple. Because they're making money on the garbage. It's a misalignment of incentives. Until that is fixed, through reorganization or regulation, the problem will persist. They will only do enough to fight this -- both in terms of technology and public image -- so that it doesn't impact their bottom line(s).
I think you’re trivializing the difficulty in categorizing the low quality, and extremely brief, comments of social media.
Go look at a political subreddit, or some controversial tweet. There’s little conversation or context. Most users could be bots.
Google often has the advantage of having hard (url) or soft (product/key word mention) links that point to something extremely rare and “unimportant”. Everyone is bitching about politicians and policy in a way that’s not far from a Markov chain.
> With all the propaganda going around, it is hard to find the truth
If bot/organized posts are properly classified as spam then surely the factual accuracy of someone's postings don't really matter anymore, as anything "inaccurate" falls into the realm of "opinion" or just human error. Presumably it's ok to be wrong.
So I don't see any problem with a person believing that e.g. Epstein was killed, and posting online about this belief. I don't see a problem with grassroots communities arising around this belief. It only seems to me to be an issue when such postings are sponsored/encouraged because of e.g. some political aim, and proper spam detection would mitigate this.
3rd party fact checkers themselves are highly biased. If you think reuters is neutral, then you really don't understand the "news" business. The "news" business isn't in the business of news. It's in the influence business. The founder of reuters started off peddling radical revolutionary propaganda.
Paul Julius Reuter worked at a book-publishing firm in Berlin and was involved in distributing radical pamphlets at the beginning of the Revolutions in 1848.
Besides, the problematic part with "news" involve "non-factual" news but rather political "news". Whether globalism is good or bad. What, if anything, to do about climate change. Nonsense like veganism, etc. There, by nature, can't be fact-checked because it is a value/contextual judgment rather than a factual one. Capitalism vs communism, nationalism vs globalism, immigration vs nativism, alt-right vs alt-left, traditional media vs social media, etc.
> I think you’re trivializing the difficulty in categorizing the low quality, and extremely brief, comments of social media. Go look at a political subreddit, or some controversial tweet. There’s little conversation or context. Most users could be bots.
Never mind Google, most people are unable to recognize when they are behaving in a bot-like manner themselves...and if you point it out to them, in my experience 90%+ of the time they will become hostile and double down on their clearly not correct statements.
EDIT: Which is often reflected in willingness to entertain or debate ideas, as well as voting patterns. But alas, it seems I am done on HN for the day, due to "posting too fast".
This is 100% correct. FB and TWTR are publicly traded companies; their executives and their board have convinced themselves in an extremely cowardly fashion that their only duty is to the shareholders. They absolutely know that the second they take this stuff seriously, they have to report both how bad it was/is, and how much traffic/revenue to their product was fraudulent at best.
it's ridiculous how blatant it all is, to the point that even in modern media (e.g tv show Succession) pokes at all the cancer this stuff produces and its one of those things most people are like "yep its happening" but there is nothing being done to stop any of it. ive stopped using facebook/twitter ages ago. that stuff is the downfall of modern society
I think you're absolutely right. It's frightening that there are so many wrongs happening in society today yet nobody seems to be able to stop them from happening. I'm not sure what has gone wrong here but I suspect it all stems from deep-rooted corruption in our leaders and institutions.
One of the unfortunate side effects of significantly reducing the power of democratically elected governments is that while the government has less power to do damage, it also less power to correct wrongs.
Its not corruption per se its perversion. Honor and integrity have been usurped by greed, money and power. As long as money = speech and corporations are considered constituents, the issue will prevail. The real solution is to outlaw campaign contributions and lobbying... But that's not going to happen as long as the foxes are guarding the hen house.
The executives and board members are not delusional. According to legal precedent set by Dodge v. Ford Motor Co, a 1919 decision that held that "A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end. The discretion of directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to a change in the end itself, to the reduction of profits, or to the non-distribution of profits among stockholders in order to devote them to other purposes..." from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodge_v._Ford_Motor_Co.
BTW, I agree with you that it is gross but thems the rules. So if we extend this logic we need to convince the corporation that it is not in there financial interest to continue with the status-quo.
Go talk to an average person about a subject outside their career expertise.
No matter how "smart" they seem like they should be you'll get some of the worst, lowest quality opinions imaginable.
Most people do not know how to say "I'm not really sure about that". The absolute worst thing you can do south the average person is ask them to think about a new concept, and the internet is a medium which puts a box in front of you and says "have your say".
If it is reported by a recipient using the report button most email providers have then your email host gets a black mark in various databases. With repeat reports over time, more and more of thier legitimate customers stuff gets filtered.
That means your email host is incentivised to find and shut down spam accounts, ideally before they start sending mail. Register a bunch of accounts from one computer or from a proxy? Closed.
You could get around this with your own smtp server buuut... If you send a lot of reported emails your home isp will chuck you. They don't want thier ip block blacklisted. Your cloud smtp spam server will be pulled by amazon and they won't let someone who seems to be you create a new account.
So yes, you can send a few manually written emails and send them to a couple people at a time, but anything with wider reach will be shut down rapidly at various levels.
Meanwhile, you can script create thousands of twitter bot accounts with obvious bot names and... If they are looking for them, they aren't looking harder than they are being made to.
I guess this is a strong argument for federated Internet infrastructure. Everyone is incentivised to play nice because thier partners can cut them off.
In addition to the making-money thing, I think it's often a class-interest thing. As a recipient of the harms of paid disinformation, I'm perfectly happy to ban it all, and with stiff legal penalties. But if you're a billionaire (or work for one), then banning paid disinformation means you're giving up a tool of power, and taking power away from the people you regularly hobnob with.
As a billionaire your interests are a bigger target for well funded or well organised opponents as well. And you probably have a lot of other ways at your disposal to exert influence. So I don't see a net benefit of disinformation specifically for billionaires.
Billionaires also have plenty of ways to influence large numbers of non-billionaires. They can own media empires and think tanks, fund/lobby politicians and political movements with armies of volunteers, or become media personalities themselves.
I would be interested in an analysis of who funds those troll campaigns. I'd wager billionaires rank very far below governments, political parties and corporations.
Again, that they have other tools doesn't mean that they want to give up this one. And they're not more likely to just because those groups use it. Indeed, governments and political parties are generally quite solicitous of the interests of the very rich.  As, of course, are corporations.
>Again, that they have other tools doesn't mean that they want to give up this one.
It means that disinformation is relatively less important to billionaires compared to others.
Not sure what the linked article has to do with it.
Edit: The reason why I'm even debating this not very important difference is that I feel that structural issues with our political and economic system are too often obscured and trivialised by blaming it all on powerful evil individuals.
For instance, billionaires want the companies they own shares in to make as much money as possible. CEOs who measure their success in increasing share prices are therefore incentivised to occasionally break the law.
Does that mean billionaires wanted or even told the CEO to break the law? Not necessarily. Does it mean CEOs wouldn't break the law if the shares were owned by a pension fund and not by billionaires? No.
So there are more complex structural issues that shouldn't get buried in too much finger pointing at rich individuals. Of course that doesn't mean there are no evil billionaires or that some of them wouldn't like to own a personal troll army. Who knows.
The problem is this: Trolling engages users. It makes users angry and it keeps users on your site because they are now “engaged” and being “retained”. If we got rid of all the noise (read: All of the heated arguments not backed by objective facts), many people would spend a lot less time online.
Google has not solved the spam issue. Search results have become worse and often alternatives such as Bing or duckduckgo give better result. The same can be said about Gmail which very often misses spam or marks non-spam as spam.
Apparently FB now prevents certain posts from spreading, making them only visible to the author. An example is one containing "Alex Jones". It's like a shadow ban, except FB will notify the user.
Naval Ravikant made a very good point on Joe Rogan where he said that as soon as social media platforms decided to censor content they started a war they can't win because they end up having to chose sides. He said their position should be (recalling from memory here) "we're a publishing platform not responsible for the content that's being published. If you have a warrant, we'll take it down, otherwise it's hands off". Censoring, demoting or stopping the spread, it's basically the same thing.
They absolutely are making money on the garbage as well, as you said.
The number of political activists that are just joining Twitter now and want to start by posting my times a day about the one issue must be small compared to the troll accounts. It even should be relatively easy to come up with a model to predict if someone is an experienced user based on the actions they take on the platform.
Neal Stephenson's latest book sorta deals with this.
One way the characters in the book got around the huge signal to noise problem was by using editors who were paid to filter it out. Different people could afford different qualities of editors and that had effects on society.
It's a pretty small part of the book, but it's very interesting.
I had totally forgotten about that part of Anathem!
Stephenson has done a pretty amazing job at extrapolating the near future. I'm not sure if the idea of a crypto currency existed before he wrote Cryptonomicon, but that was 10 years before Bitcoin launched.
He expressed the idea of editors being a two-way service. They not only curated your feeds, but also monitored the data you make available to others.
Wealthy people could afford human editors to look after their personal 'brand', and ensure the quality of their consumed media, whereas poorer people had to make do with AI editors run by the likes of Google, or Facebook.
The real issue here is that FB allows post boosting via payment. The public will never be able to decipher the difference and so with FB and other social media companies, there is no way for the avg user to tell the difference between an ad and organic content. Since FB makes billions from the practice of boosting posts, they are never going to back away from the practice.
Its no wonder they dont want to ban political ads. They would have to remove their post reach boosting and super refined targeting and that's their entire business.
The only plausible way out I see is first recognizing the degree to which what we consider "facts" and "factual" discourse and beliefs to actually be vague, often incorrect opinions and memes.
If one group of people of above average intelligence could learn and maintain a disciplined approach to reading and discussing issues and the news, carefully distinguishing between objective and comprehensive factual statements versus discussing things in lazy, non-comprehensive, meme and heuristic driven "facts", acknowledging the ever-present complexity, uncertainty, and nuance, might this group of people be able to finally recognize the degree to which we are mostly arguing about models and depictions of reality, rather than reality itself?
I think it is certainly possible, but it seems this idea invokes disgust in most people, of all political stripes.
Is it? If someone's job is spewing cleverly provocative, disruptive, toxic, and intentionally negative messages all day ... does that edgy skill and behaviour not leak into their home or personal life?
I understand, these workers need jobs and I'm sure some get quite proficient at trolling. But my gut says there will be personal side effects from reinforcing and working your brain and interactions like this all day. :-(
It sounds more like it's akin to wage slavery rather than blindly following orders. Assuming there aren't other jobs for those workers then they most likely have to chose between that job and a meagre existence based on government subsidies and goodwill of others.
> If someone's job is spewing cleverly provocative, disruptive, toxic, and intentionally negative messages all day
I agree with you but I guess humans are very good at compartmentalizing their brain. Honestly, these jobs are not that different from working for defense contractors. They know their products are used to cause harm but still most people working in the defense industry manage to stay detached from the consequences of their work.
People who believe it give a shit. Same with any economic/political/social framework where there is no way to do "hard" science. Marxist economic frameworks are no different from the alternative economic frameworks our own leaders use to make decisions.
Regardless, there are plenty of predictions that Marx/Marxists made over a hundred years ago that have stood up under scrutiny (and plenty others that haven't), there's a reason the economist is printing articles like this:
I personally don't believe economics is a "hard science", but I still see the value in exploring the ideas and judging different theories on their own merit, even if we can't do double-blind studies to "prove" anything.
To me this is exactly the problem of our times and should not be trivialized. Were there too few gatekeepers of news in the past? Maybe, but the "new" problem is that it has become too efficient (IMO) to spread misinformation while peoples ability and tolerance to spend time on researching the facts has diminished. To say it another way, misinformation/obfuscation/misdirection are not new but the scale of it is and it is critical for us to come up with better solutions to deal with it than we have today. Our climate and our democracies depend on it.
The TV series Rome (set around Julius Caesar's era) shows a guy orating/reading the daily news which was generally propaganda for whomever was in power, in the making of the accompanying the series, a consultant claims this was historically accurate. Several details in the series seem fantastical to modern viewers but have some historical basis.
>Hillary Clinton's well-heeled backers have opened a new frontier in digital campaigning, one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet's worst instincts. Correct the Record, a super PAC coordinating with Clinton's campaign, is spending some $1 million to find and confront social media users who post unflattering messages about the Democratic front-runner.
> “It is meant to appear to be coming organically from people and their social media networks in a groundswell of activism, when in fact it is highly paid and highly tactical,” said Brian Donahue, chief executive of the consulting firm Craft Media/Digital.
Yep. That was really bad on Reddit during the election. If you even broached certain topics about Hillary, it was downvoted/flagged right away. Then the day after the election, Those topics actually came up.
> All of a sudden the political subs were... reasonable.
Yeah... no. It went full "Not My President" overnight.
Hell, not even overnight. It went full "Not My President" that very night.
And if you think that's bad, had to deal with brass at work (fintech) proclaiming that we needed to spend an insane amount of capital in preparation for the record trade volume we would need to process because the markets were going to collapse.
Also funny because one of the /r/politics rules was that you were not allowed to accuse someone of shilling. I just checked now and it's still one of the top rules. Given how pro-Hillary and anti-Sanders that sub became overnight, it seems that they were wanting to subdue the commentary on the proven paid influence HRC had.
It was EXTREMELY pro-Sanders for a very long time. The entirety of reddit was extremely pro-Sanders. I have to believe reddit owners/admins were complicit in this shift because it was so overwhelming and even today, dissent is extremely difficult. The most notable pro-Sanders sub outside his boring official campaign one(chapotraphouse) is quarantined.
Oh they knew exactly what was going in. Reddit suddenly became militantly pro-establishment and a much nastier place overall. I think the massive amount of Bernie enthusiasm scared some people, Bernie stuff was constantly hitting the front page.
He was referring to just how pro-Sanders/Anti-Hillary Reddit was up until the electron primaries. Right after Hillary got the nomination in 2016, it turned to Pro-Hillary. /r/politics was particularly bad on all of that. The first day after the election was the first time any news about the private email server was even allowed on /r/politics.
"Right after Hillary got the nomination in 2016, it turned to Pro-Hillary."
Isn't that exactly what you'd expect to happen if a lot of the commenters where Democratic voters acting as rational agents in good faith? If I were a Bernie supporter in 2016 who wanted the Democratic candidate (whoever that might end up being) to win, why would I shit on Clinton after she won the nomination? It'd make more sense to support her, and I think that's what a lot of people did. That's certainly exactly what I did.
It's weird that the fact Russians targeted also heavily BLM doesn't get attention. They ran the biggest FB page, tons of other on other platform. Mueller pdf is s fascinating read, I suggest everyone to read it. It's not dry at all and has everything for every side in it.
It's a tired argument. Like saying Jill Stein is a Russian asset because literally 1 post in 10,000 (from troll farms) mentioned her as a "redirection" effort. Yes, mentioning Sanders is also a way to redirect from voting for Hillary. Suggesting he's somehow accountable or responsible for this is ridiculous though.
The only person HRC has to blame for losing is herself. The amount of actual-fake-news where there was total bullshit made up about her was nearly non-existent, and especially so when compared to the bullshit made up about Trump (paying hookers to pee in a bed Obama slept in, which got REAL mainstream media coverage thousands of times).
> Like saying Jill Stein is a Russian asset because literally 1 post in 10,000 (from troll farms) mentioned her as a "redirection" effort.
That's not why Stein is called a Russian asset; they did the same with Sanders, who acknowledged and rejected what they were doing when it was discovered, and wasn't nearly as often labeled that way. Aside from the difference in each candidates response there's other behavioral differences including, well, things like this:
> Like saying Jill Stein is a Russian asset because literally 1 post in 10,000 (from troll farms) mentioned her as a "redirection" effort.
Therein lies a good point I routinely use to befuddle, is how do you know these trolls are working on behalf of someone for their benefit, or working on behalf of the opposition as a way to attempt to discredit?
I mean if you want to make a startup that analyzes language and maps it to a political bias and then run an analysis on the millions of reddit comments, you'd probably make a decent amount of money. Otherwise no, you'd have to go spend dozens of hours reading reddit comments over various historical timeframes
It comes from the federal indictment of the Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency in February 2016, in which the IRA would “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them.)”
This has been confirmed with research by independent media analysts like Johnathan Albright.
There is no evidence in there, only claims with a healthy peppering of qualification or misleadingly speculative terms like "alleged", "according to", "supports the idea", "believed to be", Russian-"linked", etc.
If you look carefully, you might even notice there's not even an attempt to provide any evidence. Like any other article on this topic, it just presents the claims as if evidence has been provided. But there is none, only allegations, and "believed to be" based on easily spoofable attributes.
I'm not denying all of this was the Russians, I'm just pointing out that I've never seen any actual evidence, or encountered anyone who was able to provide me anything that is more than narrative based allegations, completely devoid of evidence.
I in no way expect to change your mind, I am simply stating my understanding of what is actually known (and published) versus what is speculation.
I likely won't be able to reply again due to going against the grain, but if you can post any actual evidence I promise to read it and adjust my beliefs accordingly. If posting a link to a multi-hundred page document, please include some hint as to what page some actual evidence exists on as 100% of the people I've encountered online who have taken this approach have all for some reason decided to not reveal where these shocking proofs that they've certainly personally read can be found in the document, for some strange reason.
So the Slate article is a summary - I didn't pretend it was a published peer reviewed journal article or anything else. I also upvoted your question so I'm not sure why both your question and my answer were downvoted.
If you are genuinely interested in this, then it is easy enough to search out what they're referencing in the article. Even the Albright research (I found it), but I'm not even sure you know what your burden of proof is here.
> So the Slate article is a summary - I didn't pretend it was a published peer reviewed journal article or anything else. I also upvoted your question so I'm not sure why both your question and my answer were downvoted.
>>> I'm not sure when you're referencing, but Russian troll farms used Sanders to divide the left on social media websites.
>> This is news to me, are you able to cite any specific evidence? (Not vague allegations or assertions of fact, but rather actual, specific, somewhat confirmable evidence.
> ~you reply with a link to a document which is exactly what I asked you to not reply with.
I expect this is why you were downvoted.
I am downvoted (on this comment, and several others within a span of a few minutes) for not accepting the popular meme. This topic seems to be very strongly identity-related, so logical thinking seems to become very downgraded, replaced by post-hoc rationalization and a variety of other fascinating cognitive quirks.
I mean, think about it - we are on HN, a website full of very intelligent people, and any comment asking for evidence on certain topics will be downvoted. Why doesn't one person ever provide some evidence and utterly crush the "idiot" conspiracy theorists? I believe the reason is, because people literally can't think properly in certain situations. Their heuristics completely overpower their conscious and logical mind, knowingly or not. Hopefully someone starts to notice this and actually studies it, because it seems like it could be very harmful to society.
I believe this is one of the root problems of the day, so I will continue to point it out and take my downvotes in lieu of reasoned disagreement, which never comes.
> If you are genuinely interested in this, then it is easy enough to search out what they're referencing in the article.
I've done so many, many times, and at the end of the trail (if the link aren't dead as some are in the linked article), inevitably the factual proof is always based on one or more articles that I earlier described as "claims with a healthy peppering of qualification or misleadingly speculative terms like "alleged", "according to", "supports the idea", "believed to be", Russian-"linked", etc."
I continue to ask those who assert factual knowledge on the matter, and continue to be disappointed.
> I'm not even sure you know what your burden of proof is here.
I do: none, because I've made no assertion, I've only asked for evidence of yours: "Russian troll farms used Sanders to divide the left on social media websites."
I am quite certain there is only suspicion of this. This is certainly the case with the "Russian" trolls on Twitter, because they said it outright, as well as described their identification methodology. I can't comment for sure on Facebook, because I've never encountered an article that describes the identification methodology.
1. Governments using trolls is different than campaigns hiring people to discuss politics. Campaigns get volunteers all the time to affect public discourse by going door to door, sending mailers, and doing all kinds of things.
2. Trolls specifically have an antisocial goal. The trolls employed by Russian military intelligence engaged in a psy-ops campaign against America to raise domestic tensions along racial and social lines. They specifically targeted races and ideologies and used aggressive, violence-promoting tactics. By contrast, Hillary hired Americans to talk about politics online.
3. It's not illegal for campaigns to hire citizens to promote their politics online. It is illegal for foreign governments to engage in military intelligence psy-ops campaigns against our citizens, and for campaigns to coordinate with those campaigns and request them.
The conspiracy theories and propaganda that were created about this program are some of the most ridiculous lies of the 2016 cycle, and I think really go to show how little research people are willing to do before they repeat propaganda. "Correct the Record" exposes a classic propaganda pipeline for the right, because it was a tiny program that did very little, but the right managed to turn it into a massive huge conspiracy where every pro-Hillary comment must be a troll. Which was a response, of course, to the validated and legitimate left criticism that pro-Trump actors were actually foreign psy-op campaigns. There needed to be a "Both-sides-ism" to excuse the fact that a foreign government conducted a military intelligence operation against our elections.
Even today this conspiracy boogeyman gets play all over the internet, a remnant of disinformation used to justify an attack on our elections.
And I view this as false equivalence. Americans clicking like for American content is fundamentally different than an influence campaign by military intelligence to engage in psyops against us.
It's sad and shocking that folks treat a massive attack on the US homeland as "equivalent to Hillary fans posting comments on Reddit".
It really goes to show you how America is failing here: if no one will defend the homeland against attack, there won't be a homeland to defend.
You're welcome to cry about "clicks" and "likes" but we were attacked and are continuing to be attacked by sophisticated, and trained intelligence officers whose goal is to increase tension, increase terrorism, increase violence: and guess what -- they are succeeding. Terrorism is up. Violence is up. Tension is up.
Feels like a huge "wake up" moment, but of course the fake "both sides" propaganda paralyzes folks into such cynicism that they watch one-sided terroristic violence roil our communities and they shrug and complain about "views"
Well, one of them is illegal. Also, the foreign variety advances the possibly incompatible goals of the foreign country while the domestic version tends to be between individuals with differing but legitimate visions of how the country should be run.
If it's illegal for a campaign to have paid shills posting bad things about one candidate and good things about another, then I'd agree the difference is much smaller than I first started, but I'm not aware of any law that would be breaking.
>it seems like a new danger that foreign governments are now trying to manipulate voters
This is not a new thing. Take for example, Poland historically used to elect a monarch. Various European powers would try to influence who was elected. In 1733, this famously culminated in the War of the Polish Succession.
It isn’t new at all. Foreign countries have been doing it since the invention of democracy.
You can see this very vividly demonstrated in any classical histories, like Thucydides, all the way up through history, with all types of elections, from actual every-single-citizen democracies to the just-the-Electors HRE.
This is also true in American history from the very beginning, when French interests, for example, worked against Adams. Or more famously, when the British strongly intervened to ensure the re-election of FDR.
Simply put, there’s no foreign country in world history that wasn’t or isn’t interfering in domestic elections they have any kind of interest in. It would be very foolish not to. It’s a game that has gone on since the invention of democracy and will always go on, because every incentive is aligned with it and there are no norms against it.
In general, you have to be very careful when people claim something is new and unprecedented. Sometimes they just don’t know and lack the necessary context, but often they’re constructing a narrative that relies on historical innocence/ignorance of relatively mundane detail. This has been a major problem with our news media that has been getting worse for decades: they don’t do the very important job of putting things into historical or even a current cultural context. Instead, they create narratives that are easy, get people fired up and consuming more news, and often inadvertently (or sometimes advertently) serve a partisan purpose.
If a country’s citizen are so receptive to foreign influence, then those citizen are not at the required level to vote in a democracy, or the ideas are really good. We all know the flaws of democracy, but foreign interference through ideas is either a problem of the homeland having ideas that should be repelled, or really gullible people. Raising education levels is the solution, not asking other countries to « not interfere ».
Most telling part of their statement is the defense that the company operates "like like any other agency of its kind"—as if that is a defense.
As disgusting as this is, there are so many layers to regulating, much of which stems from the nature of social media platforms vs. traditional media platforms. Are the platforms they're posting on subject to the same propaganda regulations as news outlets? Are they as individuals liable for the spread of misinformation, as a result?
They object to being called a troll farm, but essentially admit to all the activities, including making fake accounts, that makes them a troll farm. Other than getting picky about terminology it appears to be an admission of guilt.
> A majority of Cat@Net’s employees are understood to be disabled, allowing the company to derive substantial public subsidies from Poland’s National Disabled Rehabilitation Fund. According to the Reporters Foundation, the company has received about 1.5 million zloty (£300,000) from the fund since November 2015.
I think it's more akin to "the solution to gambling is to understand that you won't win". On one level you have a small group of people who know precisely how gambling works and can exploit it in limited circumstances, but on the standard level, you have the general population that's just playing games with a chance of winning money.
The notion that the online world is deeply disconnected from the offline one strikes me as hopelessly ancient. It was certainly true for me when I was a kid calling BBSes from my basement. It's manifestly untrue for me now that I conduct most of my business and much of my recreation via video call, email, and social media tools.
It has been a gradual change, of course. But if I were to pick a date where your notion became wrong, it'd be June 29, 2007. With the launch of the iPhone, the internet forever stopped being the thing inside the big box on your desk. Once it was in our pockets (and very often right in our hands), it stopped being cyberspace and became everyday life.
It's only a solution if it actually solves the issue. You can drop all social media entirely, but other people who do not will still get influenced by it, and then vote. And you then have to deal with what they vote for, because it applies to everybody.
This is what makes political ads so different from the rest of them - they're not ads for products that everybody decides for themselves to buy or not. Everybody's decisions here affect everybody else.
Lots of anger in the comments about the media, lots of sympathy for the 'poor' guy, lots of comments saying he should get a lawyer, sue the newspapers etc.
The problem is the screenshot was bullshit. He wasn't released without charge at all, he has since been charged and is looking at 10+ years in jail, but that one screenshot from Facebook was all it took for people to be convinced, and not just in cyber-space, but in the real world.
I'm from the same part of the world, and remember going into work the following day to find people talking about the 'poor guy', and expressing anger about how he had been treated, etc, because of that one screenshot doing the rounds.
Try explaining this to the types of people who rely on heavily politicized news outlets for their news...in addition to Facebook. It seems you either have critical thinking skills or you don't. These types are addicted to becoming outraged whenever their pundit tells them to. Everything is taken at face value, as long as it's coming from their ascribed source of truth. This behavior carries over into their social media filter bubbles, rinse and repeat.
> It seems you either have critical thinking skills or you don't.
I strongly disagree. Substantial amounts of similar (if to a lesser degree) behavior can be observed in any identity-related thread on HN. We may be better than the average mouth breather, but we're far from immune from delusional beliefs.
I wonder, downvoter, why do you disagree? Surely you can acknowledge that technical folks on HN are capable of critical thinking....do you truly believe this ability extends to all other domains, completely free of error? Or, might it be something else? :)
I really don't like PR operations like this, but here's a thought experiment:
Presumably it's OK to voice one's opinions on social media, but:
1. Is it acceptable for private interests to do the same?
2. At what point does something turn from personal opinion to propaganda?
3. Is it more problematic that a private entity (e.g. a PR firm) is _pretending_ to express an honest opinion? Would this be acceptable if this were a group of up-front political activists instead?
Personally, I'd draw the line at private interests trying to influence public opinion. Sadly, this is a process as old as the hills. Marketing and propaganda have existed for a long time, it just seems like it's become much harder to pin it for what it is in the era of social media.
- Tory Bruno promoting ULA on reddit under a pseudonym: Almost acceptable, not the best since he has money involved and isn't disclosing it, but he probably honestly thinks most of what he is saying.
- A PR person hired to promote ULA promoting ULA on reddit under disclosing that they are a PR person: Mostly acceptable, not the best since they probably aren't at all genuine
- A PR person hired to promote ULA promoting ULA on reddit under not disclosing that they are a PR person or associated with the company: Mostly unacceptable, this isn't personal opinion but paid propaganda, and it shouldn't masquerade as personal opinion.
- A PR person hired to promote ULA promoting ULA on reddit under 10 different pseudonyms: Completely unacceptable, this should probably be made outright illegal. The only purpose of using pseudonyms like this is to trick people into thinking you have support that you do not.
The article is talking about the last case, shades of grey exist, but this one is known as pitch black.
I find it pretty interesting that this comment is on HN. A few years ago, I think it was pretty widely accepted in SV that the last method you mention was just part of the grind. Maybe not the most straight-shooting approach, but still accepted. We even had a title for it: growth hacking. People hired growth hackers! I'm going to refrain from asserting a value judgement; I just thought it was interesting
We ban accounts that do that. It has never been acceptable on HN, not since the beginning, and not by a long shot. People have wildly varying ideas about what is "widely accepted in SV", largely imaginary I think, but in any case not in the section of the Venn diagram that HN overlaps with. (Btw, only about 10% of HN's community is in SV.)
One case where we might not instantly ban someone is if they had a long history of using HN as intended. Then we might left them off with a strict warning not to do it again. But that's rare. Real community members tend not to do this kind of thing, and that makes it easier for the community to spot: since such comments are made by people without much experience here, they tend to stand out like a sore thumb—usually a bunch of green thumbs that turn red when whacked by a ban hammer.
Many has been the email thread in which a sheepish startup founder or manager wrote to apologize for what their "growth hacker" did and asking to be unbanned. We usually let them off if they promise not to do it again and to tell all their friends that what "growth hacking" got them on HN was a swift ban.
Another case where we incline to mercy is when the underlying article is good work and something the community would normally find interesting, and it's clear that the "growth hacking" was happening out of naivete. Usually this is because someone had the mistaken idea from afar that it was "widely accepted in SV" that this is how you do startups. Ironically they usually turn out to be classic technical types who are clumsy at marketing and influenced by the wrong kind of blogs. I say ironically because if they would just be themselves and present their work in a direct way, they'd more likely do well on HN. In this case the cure is to educate and hopefully make real community members out of them.
I find this confession to be on a par with Zuckerberg's famous "dumb fucks" quote. While Reddit did go on to become a useful site, I consider their success to be permanently tainted. I applaud dang's efforts to ban users who attempt similar deceptions.
Seems like the key (obvious?) difference between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" is the speaker's transparency about the source of the message. Disclosing who you are and your relationship to the topic: Acceptable. Hiding or obfuscating who you are or pretending to be someone else: Unacceptable.
I think there are multiple differences, some more subtle than others. Transparency about the source is an obvious one, but also:
- Authenticity of the message (does the person believe what they are saying)
- Transparency about the number of people saying it (even if you aren't transparent about the source, it's better to pretend to be 1 pseudonymous person than 10)
- Information content of the message. All else being equal Tory Bruno giving out spreadsheets making the business case for Vulkan is better than Tory Bruno repeatedly saying "Vulkan is a good idea". As a less extreme PR people giving out information about timelines is better than PR people saying "watch out for our upcoming product".
Being ten or fifty fake personas - pretend people who don't exist - is poisoning the limited capacity information channel that we all have available to interpret the outside world. Bad information drives out good, to paraphrase a classic.
>A PR person hired to promote ULA promoting ULA on reddit under 10 different pseudonyms: Completely unacceptable, this should probably be made outright illegal. The only purpose of using pseudonyms like this is to trick people into thinking you have support that you do not.
Isn't this how Reddit itself became a platform? I understand they had no traffic/users and the Reddit Platform was seeded with bots to post, comment, upvote, etc... This false illusion of a user base and community gave the platform the credibility it needed to gain real users.
In the beginning there were no comments, after a lackluster start, they seeded the site with interesting links to attract people who would like those links and themselves provide more. They did not engage in opinion shaping for a third party for financial gain.
I've worked with organizations that encouraged their staff to promote their company on social media. This seems fine. However if that staff member then went out and created 10 profiles for made up people, that would be different. So I think that's where I'd draw the line. Are you posting as yourself on social media, or as a bunch of sock puppets?
Its sort of the Citizens United argument we've had the US. Does money = speech? I would say it doesn't and democracy depends on opinions being represented in good faith, and not just who can purchase the biggest megaphone.
Citizens United totally slipped my mind. Excellent point on the money = speech argument.
A thought I had reading your comment was that what money != speech, money _does_ = reach (sock puppets, marketing campaigns, etc). That said, I have no idea how we can really disentangle the two while we're hearing about things from our own social circles.
Personal take: any government that can selectively silence speech is too powerful. Troll farms are a problem, but government is a horrible solution to that problem. What we need is a mechanism for digital proof-of-human. Ideally this would be decentralised, but there's no obvious way to do this well (I consider the web of trust model easily exploitable if used at scale). Estonia has a system for verifying humans that's available to non-citizens, but then we're trusting the Estonian government. The best solution I have to propose would be a series of independant governments/corporations identifying people, and an open source system for checking credentials against the APIs provided by a group of these institutions. If you're verified by Estonia, Russia, Facebook, and WeChat, you're unlikely to be a fake human. If Facebook is refusing to verify humans that seem real and get verified by other sources, we can drop them from the list of verifiers. I want a better solution, but this is the best I have so far.
Not Estonia, but Lithuania has a process to combat "fake news". Per last week's Economist  :
"Demaskuok, which means “debunk” in Lithuanian, is a piece of software that searches for the patient zeros of fake news. It was developed by Delfi, a media group headquartered in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, in conjunction with Google, a large American information-technology company. It works by sifting through reams of online verbiage in Lithuanian, Russian and English, scoring items for the likelihood that they are disinformation. Then, by tracking back through the online history of reports that look suspicious, it attempts to pin down a disinformation campaign’s point of origin—its patient zero."
What you say is true if I'm running a FaceBook/Twitter/whatever, but I believe the issue here is a bit broader: What do we as a global society believe is an acceptable level of disclosure when voicing opinions that are not our own?
Individual platforms can self-regulate (hah!) if they feel the need, but I think many people will have strong feelings on what are and are not acceptable ways of influencing public opinion.
Making of "artificial opinions" is a big part of PR trade now, in use by commercial companies, NGOs, and politicians, of course. If it's paid with tax money that's a scandal, for sure. But otherwise think of any entity which wants (for whatever reason) to influence public opinion - you may be sure they do that sort of stuff with practically 100% certainty. Some prefer to use volunteers for this work, seeing it as a more ethical approach, but it still involves creation of orchestrated accounts, and posting in accordance with guides, and schedules. It's probably worth accepting that unknown voices on the net are unlikely to be trusted sources of information.
In my opinion this is actual problem in Poland nowadays, however:
a. This article was published by a newspaper which has proven track of publishing fake polarizing news,
b. Unfortunately - the so called democratic oposition has also proven track of similar behavior. One may check #SilniRazem (together we are strong) which is kind of meme on Polish Twitter.
3. It is likely that the intent of the original article was to polarize using one-sided reporting of the issue.
To sum up - yet another polarizing click-bait with aim is to cause outrage.
The Guardian is notoriously biased and rabidly left wing. Just look at how they characterize TVP in the article. Is Antifa's propaganda bureau running this newspaper?
From what I understand, the investigation was done by the Polish branch of Newsweek, owned by Ringier Axel Springer. For context, people here should know that Ringier Axel Springer is one of a handful of German companies that hold about 80% of the Polish media. These companies are notorious for their hit pieces on conservative politicians and politics. This is a serious problem for Poland, e.g., geopolitically speaking, because it means that foreign interest is molding domestic opinion. By now, anyone who hasn't been pulling a Rip van Winkle knows that the EU is largely a means for Germany to project power and influence, a means to fuel its export market, and a means to acquire cheap labor in the East.
Thus, interpreted through this lens, this article starts to look suspicious, perhaps one of those smear pieces where something (unfortunately very commonplace) is attributed exclusively to the enemy. May I remind people that Obama made use of social media long before Hilary and Trump both did, yet Trump gets all of the attention.
So if you still don't at least suspect bias, then you're hopeless.
So, can this particular problem be solved if social media accounts had to be tied to a verifiable identity?
I don't think we should go that route - as just some non-celebrity figure I would much rather post psuedo-anonymously because the social costs of accidentally saying something "bad" on the internet is way too high. I'm just trying to figure out where the boundaries are.
The existence of paid trolls and shills has been a known fact for many years on various imageboards and forums. It's become a bit of an inside joke. I even suspect that some memes have been generated by private institutions. For example, the 30 year old boomer and his association with Monster has been great advertising for Monster Energy (https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/30-year-old-boomer)
It's rather kind of funny when chinese,russian,polish,eastern european,etc. are being called "troll farms" but when they're american they're either not mentioned or called something very insignificant.
I guess the "troll farms" of US are homegrown and rather natural,since the bullshit goes deep enough that the population sings the propaganda on it's own.
As much as I still prefer the US to be still the leader of the "free" world, you can't be seriously this biased. Every country has it's own mechanisms(more ethical or not, it's besides the point,you could argue they're not ethical since they're pushed by the gov.) that will make certain people resonate some point of views.Since Europeans/Asians are rather poor on average by comparison,I'd imagine they don't have to do it "for free".
There's rather very little difference between a person who has been de facto brainwashed to push a certain agenda (that he truly believes, nonetheless) online and a person who ruins his hands by doing it for money.
Not to mention you can easily spot "trolls" or "shills" online.They're rather repetitive and obvious, since money is the incentive and not their own belief/"passion".
Does anybody have any recommended marketing firms for these campaigns, aside from Cat@Net mentioned in this article?
It has been incredibly hard for me to google, and any PR agency I've worked with isn't equipped to do it.
Software firms have been decent but are still developing everything from scratch. They don't have automated ways to manage many profiles at once, so you end up paying for that and then still having nobody that speaks English well enough to control the accounts or even pre-write their statements.
And other ill-equipped groups such as in Malaysia and India - and also cheap labor across Europe - are not good enough at colloquial American English
> Cat@Net strongly denied it was a “troll farm”
Exhibit A, it is incredibly hard to google for troll farms
This is basically PR and propaganda. Any companies you find that specialize in social media will probably have a process, and perhaps software systems, to manage this.
These companies are doing what they've always done: influencing public opinion. My bugbear here is that they're now doing so without the need to slap their name on endorsements they're making for some private or political interest.